CNA STAFF, Jul 18, 2010 (CNA) - On Thursday, the Church will celebrate the feast of St. Mary Magdelene, one of the most prominent women mentioned in the New Testament.
Her name comes from the town of Magdala in Galilee, where she originated. Scripture introduces her as a woman “who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” (Lk. 8:2).
Some scholars identify Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman who anointed the feet of Christ with oil in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Lk. 7:36-50). Others associate her with Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (Lk. 10:38-42, Jn. 11). Some believe the three figures to be one person, while others believe them to be three distinct individuals.
What the Scriptures make certain about Mary Magdalene is that she was a follower of Christ, who accompanied and ministered to him (Lk. 8:2-3). The Gospels record her as being one of the women present at Christ’s crucifixion.
In addition, she was the first recorded witness of the Resurrection. The Gospels all describe Mary Magdalene going to the tomb on Easter morning. When she saw that the tomb was empty, she stood outside, weeping. Jesus appeared to her and asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” (Jn. 20:15)
She did not recognize him, however, and thought he was the gardener, until he said her name, “Mary!” (Jn. 20:16) Upon hearing this, Mary recognized him. She returned to the grieving disciples to announce to them the message of the Resurrection.
Pope Benedict XVI spoke about Mary Magdalene in his address before the Angelus on July 23, 2006. He referred to her as “a disciple of the Lord who plays a lead role in the Gospels.”
The Pope recalled Mary Magdalene’s presence “beneath the Cross” on Good Friday, as well as how “she was to be the one to discover the empty tomb” on Easter morning.
“The story of Mary of Magdala reminds us all of a fundamental truth,” Pope Benedict said. “A disciple of Christ is one who, in the experience of human weakness, has had the humility to ask for his help, has been healed by him and has set out following closely after him, becoming a witness of the power of his merciful love that is stronger than sin and death.”
Brooklyn, N.Y., Jul 18, 2010 (CNA) - For the past 14 years, a Missouri parish has been sending select teenagers on mission trips to the doors of Hour Children in Long Island City, NY.
“This is a great story of volunteerism and churches reaching out to the needy across the country,” said Sister Teresa Fitzgerald, C.S.J., executive director of Hour Children.
She is better known as Sister Tesa, the organization’s founder whose efforts began over two decades ago in the mid-1980s, when she and other sisters from St. Rita’s Convent provided homes to children of imprisoned women.
Hour Children was formally launched in 1995, when it began taking care of jailed mothers in addition to caring for their children. They have since expanded to three communal homes open to mothers who are just coming out of prison with a baby or who are being reunited with a child that was in foster care. They also recently initiated the Hour Education and Advocacy Program at Riker’s Island, where teachers and volunteers provide workshops for pregnant women and new mothers.
Their name observes the time a child spends waiting to see his or her mother in prison.
Last week, surrounded by smiling toddlers at the Hour Children Early Learning Daycare, Sister Tesa engaged the two- and three-year olds as they sat down for their afternoon snacks.
“The children at the center have moms in a working program,” she explained. “Many of the children spent their first year or a part of their life inside the walls of a prison.”
The center, staffed with three teachers in each room of eight children, “is manageable, but it’s helpful when people come and volunteer,” said Stephanie Gonzalez, an assistant teacher there for the past year. “It provides more one-on-one time.”
This particular week, young women in bright pink T-shirts help Gonzalez and her colleagues.
They are volunteers from St. Mark’s parish in Independence, Missouri, who make the 1,200-mile trip once, sometimes twice, a year. This summer marks their 14th year volunteering at Hour Children.
It began one summer when Sister Tesa had the House for Children, and two young people came from the parish to spend an extended amount of time volunteering there. That meant helping with the most simple – and special – of tasks, driving the children up and down to see their mothers who were incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and staying with the sisters at My Mother’s House, the first Hour Children home.
The organization provides services to women incarcerated at Albion, Beacon, Taconic, Bedford and Bayview Correctional Facilities.
“I remember getting the call, explaining they were hosting a mission trip and wanted to know if Hour Children would host them,” Sister Tesa said. “I said ‘Yes!’”
Almost 15 years later, St. Mark’s parish community continues that work.
“They are very much in sync with our mission and children’s mission,” Sister Tesa said. “We have volunteers that come through our doors from all over, but St. Mark’s is the only parish that spends an entire week with us.”
Hilda Beck, the director of missions and social concerns at St. Mark’s, lead this summer’s mission trip of seven teens, ages 15-18. They are staying at the Hour Children House next to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Astoria, where they cook one evening out of the week and spend time with the residents there.
“The moms welcome us,” explained Beck, who is on her fourth mission trip to Hour Children. “When I first heard about the mission, I immediately thought, ‘This is something we have to continue!’”
Her daughter Jessica, now 18, is also on her fourth trip and is accompanied this year by her younger sister, Teresa, 14, who is volunteering for the first time.
The first trip Hilda and Jessica made “wasn’t at all what we expected!” Jessica said. “You think of New York City and that it’s big and fancy… It’s a culture shock.”
She explained, “The first year I came, I knew I’d be taking care of kids whose moms had been in prison and that we’d be staying with nuns. During my first trip, I knew just a little of the background of Hour Children and the inner workings… I have a better understanding of what goes on here now.”
The “inner workings” she described include everything from the actual rehabilitation that the mothers go through to seeing the youngsters grow into healthy and well-rounded children.
“When you think of kids being born in a prison, you get a little stereotypical,” she said. “You think they’re going to be ‘bad’ kids… But they aren’t at all.”
She said she first thought only about the children’s perspective, but never the mothers’. “I think this center is beneficial for them to know their children can be safe and that they have the opportunity to make a better life for them.”
She said leaving “is very hard” but Sister Tesa sends photos and drawings from the children to keep the volunteers updated throughout the year.
“It means a lot to the mothers to know there are people coming who care and spend their time and resources with their kids,” Sister Tesa said.
First-time volunteer Mariah Ketchum explained how “shockingly different” New York was from what she expected and how she first bought into the stereotype that “the children were going to be different because of their background.”
She continued, “Honestly, these kids are so well taken care of! To their moms, they are their whole life. When the moms pick them up, this incredible love is there.”
Another volunteer, 14-year-old Teresa Beck, said, “Back home, I thought everyone’s life was run the same – get up, go to work, come home – and being here, everyone’s life is different. Obviously some of the moms have grown up in a tough neighborhood and here I see them making a life for themselves and their children… I’ll take back to Missouri an entirely new perspective on moms and their children.”
“I think it’s very important for people to volunteer and to give a helping hand,” added Hilda Beck. “It’s not a hand down, it’s a hand up. We feel strongly that if we can change a child’s life by giving love, then we have truly lived the Gospel that God wants us to.”
Printed with permission from The Tablet, newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens.
Rome, Italy, Jul 18, 2010 (CNA) - The pastor of the Italian city of Pietrasanta, together with local Catholic associations, have lodged a complaint with city officials over a picture of the Virgin Mary holding a child-like Adolph Hitler in her arms.
The picture titled, “The Virgin of the Third Reich” belongs to the collection of Italian artist Giuseppe Veneziano, known in the region for his works mocking various historical figures including Jesus Christ and Pope Benedict XVI.
The controversial piece was used on a poster promoting the Zeitgeist Expo, which will feature various works by Veneziano at the Panichi Palace in Pietrasanta starting this weekend. It is being sponsored by local officials.
The mayor of Pietrasanta, Domenico Lombardi, has publicly apologized to Catholics for the picture and organizers of the expo have pulled the controversial piece from the Zeitegeist program.
“I assume all responsibility for the publication of this picture, but I had not seen it beforehand, and had I, I would have selected another one,” Lombardi told local reporters. “I apologize if the painting offends anyone’s religious sensibilities.”
Veneziano also has complained to reporters about the decision to pull the piece and claimed to be a victim of censorship.
Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Jul 18, 2010 (CNA) -
Before Sunday's Angelus prayer from the intimate courtyard of his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the need to listen to the Word of God. As Mary does in Sunday's Gospel, we must learn to choose the "best portion" in our relationship with the Lord.
The small inner square of the apostolic was bustling with people at noon on Sunday, taken over by a group of Spaniards promoting the canonization cause for a young man killed in the Civil War and an especially vocal group of young Salesians from Poland called the "Bosco Team."
During his pre-Angelus catechesis, Holy Father noted that with the arrival of summer comes vacation time and, thus, a "favorable moment" to bring our focus back to what is most important in life: "listening to the Word of the Lord." We are reminded of this, he said, in Sunday's Gospel reading, which is centered around Jesus' visit to Mary and Martha.
The sisters host Jesus in their home, Pope Benedict XVI recalled, Mary sitting at his feet and listening to him and Martha occupying herself with serving the "exceptional" guest.
We can almost see the scene, said the Pope, "one sister who moves about busily, and the other entranced by the presence of the Teacher and by his words."
Martha scolds Mary for not assisting with the duties of serving and enlists Jesus' help to get her sister to give her a hand. Reflecting on this scene, the Pope exclaimed, "Martha wishes to teach the Teacher!"
And, instead, pointed out Benedict XVI, Jesus says with affection, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled over many things. And yet only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the best portion, and it shall not be taken away from her."
On this, the Pope explained that "The word of Christ is very clear: no contempt for the active life, none either for generous hospitality; but a clear call back to the fact that the only truly necessary thing is another: listening to the Word of the Lord; and the Lord in that moment is there, present in the Person of Jesus!"
Turning to the meaning for today, he observed that "Everything else will pass and will be taken from us, but the Word of God is eternal and gives meaning to our daily activity."
The reading from St. Luke, then, applies to our vacation time "because it recalls the fact that the human person must work, commit himself to the domestic and professional occupations, but before everything he needs God, who is the interior light of Love and Truth," said Pope Benedict.
"Without love, even the most important activities lose their value, and they don't give (us) joy. Without a profound meaning, all of our doing is reduced to sterile and disordered activism. And who gives us Love and Truth if not Jesus Christ?
"Let's learn then, brothers and sisters," he concluded, "to help each other, to collaborate, but first still to together choose the best part, which is and will always be our greatest inheritance."